Dementia Drugs Side Effects

5 Common Side Effects of Popular Dementia Drugs

Drug side effects can be highly individual: What one person experiences can be different from what someone else taking the same medication experiences at the same dose. Factors include personal metabolism, size, and genetics; other chronic health conditions; and other medications being taken.

Common side effects of medications currently approved by the FDA for dementia include these:

Nausea. This may be the most common effect reported. Gradually raising dosage is one way doctors try to avoid this. Formulations with once-a-day dosing (such as Aricept) also tend to produce fewer side effects. Razadyne is taken with food, which can minimize gastrointestinal problems.

Dizziness. This symptom is especially associated with Namenda, a drug for later-stage dementia, but it can occur in anyone beginning any new med.

Fainting. A 2009 Canadian study found that slowed heart rate caused by cholinesterase inhibitors (such as Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne) led to hospitalizations for fainting twice as often as among older adults with dementia who were not on such meds.

Weight loss, weight gain. This effect can vary as appetite is affected. Someone experiencing nausea and diarrhea, for example, is at higher risk of losing weight.

Headache/other pain. Also watch for changes in vision, stomach pain, heartburn.

Report any adverse symptoms to the doctor when beginning a new medication, especially if they last more than a few days. Most bothersome symptoms disappear as the body adjusts to a particular dosage, although some may remain throughout the course of the medication.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio